Limited Focus or Unsure How Brand and Marketing Works

When you read the business section of any media, attend any local or international trade seminars or listen to the business radio talk shows – the topic of “Brand and Marketing” never fail to be the most discussed topic. SMEs should have known the importance of Brand and Marketing as the key business strategy to stay competitive or even merely to survive. Sadly, limited focus on branding and marketing is still one of the key challenges faced by SMEs. This was reported in the recent SME Masterplan 2012-2020.

I would have been suspicious on the findings should Bizsphere has not done our own online survey on “Marketing practices among SMEs” in June 2012. We found that 76% of SMEs agreed that marketing is important or even crucial to a business but more than half or 53% of them is operating without a dedicated marketing team / personnel. 40% of the respondents claimed that “Bosses have to manage the daily marketing functions on his/ her own.” A boss who multi-task will never be able to look into details. These SMEs might be doing the right thing by incorporating marketing as their key business strategy but not doing it right with adequate investment in time, money and expertise.

As for SMEs with dedicated marketing personnel, up to 45% of them only spend less than RM 4,000 a month on marketing overhead. This also translates that only a junior marketing personnel is hired. Business without a plan is planning to fail. Only half of 55% of SMEs has an annual marketing plan and budget. Does this mean that marketing is not the primary focus of most SMEs? Personally, I do think that SMEs places emphasis into brand and marketing but probably in the wrong priority or unsure how marketing works effectively.

Our recent online survey also uncovered 5 top marketing management challenges of SMEs.

  • Unable to measure the return on brand/ marketing investment
  • Lack of proper marketing management system
  • Marketing is not resourceful due to lack of effective marketing tools/ methodology & best practices experience
  • High focus on daily marketing administration instead of strategic planning
  • Do not have a dedicated marketing personnel

What do the above findings tell us? SMEs lack the know-how in brand and marketing. They need guidance on how to manage it systematically. Their core business is not marketing, thus limited exposure to best practices of brand and marketing. Many SMEs may be still viewing marketing as merely an administration task of producing brochures or catalogues, website, developing a creative for advertisement etc – It is not the right perception. The marketing personnel they hire – if they hire one, may not have the strategic brand and marketing mindset or experience to help elevate the SME’s business to the next level.

To get down to bare minimum, it is crucial to dedicate at least a senior marketing person in a company for brand & marketing purposes. Optionally, companies can always look into Outsourced Marketing which I have highlighted in the previous issue of Libra magazine.

Getting back to what I mentioned earlier, SMEs are not focused enough when it comes to brand and marketing. With a limited pool of budget, companies tend to spread it thinly across different channels and medium. This is because many SMEs are busy chasing for ways to create their brand awareness instead of building a strong marketing infrastructure and establishing a strong brand identity and positioning beforehand.

Today, SMEs are overwhelmed with increasing channels and methods in promoting themselves. There are new advertising packages integrating broadcast, print, mobile and online media plus exposure in on-ground events. The proliferation of social media also offers SMEs enormous “free” platforms to engage with their target customers. There are many brand and marketing related awards opened for “nomination”. Many of the SMEs which I have met would have embarked on at least one of these branding initiatives. When I ask how they choose the right media or channel, most of them responded “Just trying it out. It is the trend. Many companies are going for it. Thus, it must be good.” Sounds familiar? I can only make 2 conclusions out of this development among SMEs. First, SMEs do focus on brand and marketing but only on the execution not the strategic components. Second, SMEs do have budget to spend but not spending cost effectively to their business or brand advantage.

Malaysia economy is moving towards high income nation and liberalization. There is only so much that the government can support and protect SMEs. Skill enhancement, educational programmes, loans or even grants will lessen the burden of SMEs in forging ahead as branded and exportable companies to global market. However, the key driving force will still be a change in mindset. Branding and marketing must be treated as strategic investment instead of expenditure. It is not only about awareness – brand and marketing strategically guides us on our values and culture, helps our operations and business to stay focus while enabling us to connect and engage with our customers.

SMEs need to get back to the basic. A strong strategic brand and marketing foundation prepares you for challenges and equips you to maximize business potentials. Get a marketing team up and establish your brand and marketing strategies. The rest will come easy.

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